McGillians making news

Brown: Saying no to the status quo

Don’t fix the economy – change it

“Sticking with the economic model that is driving us toward ecological catastrophe will eventually kill us…” These strong words, from Peter G. Brown of McGill’s geography department and environmental consultant Geoffrey Garver, appeared in an opinion piece that ran in UAE’s The National, Mexico’s El Universal and the Toronto Star – and were cited throughout the blogosphere. Brown and Garver warn that “the financial crisis has brought into sharp focus the need to fundamentally change, not merely repair or rebuild, our economy. It is essential to address the financial and ecological crises together.” The authors present steps to take toward creating a “truly balanced budget that will allow Canadians, and all people on Earth, to live fulfilling, healthy, yet more ecologically compatible, lives.” A letter to The Star follows the piece: “This was probably the most important article to appear in the Star this year, not that it said anything new or radical, but for its sane and rational expression. It begs for Canadians to stand up and be counted.”

FDA, ethics and international drug trials

The 1964 Declaration of Helsinki is widely regarded as the cornerstone document of medical ethics for conducting experiments on humans. In October 2008, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) decided to shelve the Declaration and replace it with the International Conference on Harmonization’s Guideline for Good Clinical Practice (GCP). According to critics, this change means less stringent ethical standards for overseas research. In the feature commentary in the January 2009 issue of the medical journal The Lancet, McGill medical ethicist Jonathan Kimmelman and colleagues from the University of Western Ontario and the University of Indiana warn that by omitting key conditions from the Declaration of Helsinki – such as disclosing funding, sponsors and conflicts of interest – the GCP reduces the ethical requirements of clinical testing in underprivileged countries. “The FDA regulates the largest drug market in the world,” they write, “and we worry that its replacement of the Declaration of Helsinki with a less morally authoritative document may cause others to follow suit, thereby undermining international ethical standards for research.”

Sleep disorder could signal neurological disease

People with rapid eye movement sleep disorder, which causes them to kick or cry out during deep sleep, may be more likely to develop dementia or Parkinson’s disease, a new Canadian study suggests. “It’s basically a disorder where you act out your dreams at night,” explained Dr. Ronald B. Postuma from the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre, who co-authored the study with Dr. Jacques Montplaisir from the University of Montreal. The study suggests that over half the participants will develop a neurodegenerative disease, such as Parkinson’s, within 12 years of being diagnosed with the sleep disorder. This rate of occurrence is exceptionally high; the Parkinson Society Canada estimates that, among the general population, one in 300 Canadians has Parkinson’s disease. Postuma, however, cautions that most restless sleepers shouldn’t worry. “This is a relatively dramatic disorder that comes on in your fifties and sixties, so it’s not something that happens once in a while your entire life. A little bit of sleep talking or waking up a little confused and then falling back asleep again are normal things that happen in the population.” The report was published in the Dec. 24 online issue of Neurology.